Peter Welker’s ‘Sidemen’ on a roll

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: The Sidemen

When: Friday, Jan. 18, 7 p.m.

Where: Red Brick, 101 Second St.

Information: RedBrickRestaurants.com

Peter Welker is in a very good mood.

“I’m prouder of the work I’m doing today than just about anything I’ve ever done in my life,” says the acclaimed horn player and composer. Having taken up the trumpet at age 9, Welker has been a working musician his whole life. He started composing in his teens, has played with numerous bands over the decades, switched to the flugelhorn a few years ago — “At my age, it’s a little more forgiving than the trumpet,” he laughs — and has steadily built relationships with some of the best-known musicians in the business. Asked how many ensembles he’s been a part of since starting to play, he lets out another laugh, every bit as rich and melodious as a tune on a horn.

“Oh man, I’ve played with hundreds of bands over the years,” he says, quickly adding, with a huge smile, “I’ve never actually tried to sit down and count how many. Dozens of bands. And hundreds of players. I’ve played with a lot of great people. But I’ve honestly never been as excited to play with a group of folks as I am about the guys in my current band, The Sidemen. It’s the best band I’ve ever put together.”

The Sidemen are drummer Todd Tribble, bassist Cliff Hugo, saxophonist Steve Steinberg, keyboardist Ruben Valtierra and guitarist Morris Acevedo. Every one is a hardworking session player, having performed with scores of major names over the years.

It just made sense to call us The Sidemen, since that’s what we’ve all done, playing for just about everybody,” Welker says. “And when we perform live, together, it’s pretty awesome. This is a killer band, man.”

Over the last year, the Sidemen have quickly built a strong reputation as the kind of band to whom other musicians are particularly drawn.

“We have fans who come because they like to dance, and fans who come because they like to listen,” says Welker. “And then we have fans who are musicians, who like to come and sit and say, ‘Wow! I think you guys may be the best band in Sonoma County!’ I’m too humble to say something like that myself, but I’m not too humble to say that someone else said it. Anyway, we are definitely building up a big base of fans in the area. One writer called us a cross between The Crusaders, the Yellow Jackets and the L.A. Express. Which is cool because those are all my favorite bands.”

The Sidemen will be performing on Friday, Jan. 18, at Petaluma’s Red Brick, where the group has appeared a number of times since originally forming 12 months ago.

“We usually pack the place, because the word is out,” says Welker. “Do I sound excited? Well, I am excited! I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s just so cool to be my age, I’m 74, and still be able to feel like there are really big opportunities ahead.”

In between performances, The Sidemen have been recording their first CD, with 11 tunes already completed, including one featuring original lyrics and vocals by Grammy-winner Bill Champlin, of Sons of Champlin and Chicago. Also on the album are Tony Levin, bass player with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, and his brother Pete Levin, keyboardist for David Sanborn, Bob Dylan and others. Grammy-winning saxophonist Tom Scott appears on four songs. But it’s Chmplin’s appearance that Welker believes could open doors for the recording, which he hopes to have completed and ready to shop around by this summer.

PLANNING TO GO?

What: The Sidemen

When: Friday, Jan. 18, 7 p.m.

Where: Red Brick, 101 Second St.

Information: RedBrickRestaurants.com

“Bill’s been a friend of mine since the late ‘60s, when he used to come out and hear Cold Blood, which I was a member of in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s,” Welker says. “Anyway, cutting to last year, I called Bill up and told him I was working on this project, and that Tom Scott had already recorded two tunes. I asked him if he’d even consider recording some vocals for the album. ‘Tommy’s on it? That’s pretty cool,” he said, and after a while, he went, ‘Hmmmm …’ And there was this long pause, during which I assumed Bill Champlin was trying to figure out a nice way to say no. Cause everyone wants this guy on their projects, right? But then he said, ‘You know what? Have you written any original tunes? Why don’t you send me one or two you think I’d like, and if I like one, maybe I’ll write some lyrics for it, and then I’ll put the vocals on it.’”

Welker immediately sent Champlin an original instrumental piece he’d written, a composition with a strong funk-jazz groove.

“Right away, Bill got back to me and said, ‘I love your tune, Peter! It’s funkier than a three-day-old Band-Aid!’” recalls Welker. “He went off for 10 days on a European tour, and when he got back, he emailed me some lyrics, which were just killer. And next thing I knew, not only had he recorded this incredible main vocal, he sent me a version with background vocals too. At first I thought he’d brought in some female background singers, maybe even his wife, Tamara, who’s an amazing singer herself. ‘No, no! That was me singing falsetto!’ Bill told me. So suddenly, we have this song with main vocals and background vocals by Bill Champlin, with lyrics by Bill Champlin. I seriously think this song could end up becoming a hit. It’s that good. I really haven’t been this excited in years.”

With such star power on the recording, Welker is hoping to get a major label to release it.

“I’ve been talking to some record people who all say, ‘How’d you get all of those people to make this album?’ And I just say, ‘It pays to have good friends, I guess.’ But it’s a great album, and the tunes are killer, so who knows? Anything is possible.”

With another enormous smile, Welker adds, “Look, I know how hard this business is, and I know how unpredictable it is. But with this particular band, and this particular recording, with all of these unbelievably great people on it, I am especially optimistic, that’s for sure. You could say I’m feeling really good about this one.”

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